“A farm bill is a jobs bill,” read some of the protest signs last week as farmers (several hundred by best estimates) gathered in Big Washington to press Congress for passage of a farm bill, which has been stalled by the House Republican leadership. An unusually bipartisan group of lawmakers welcomed the farmers.
The Senate has already passed a five-year farm bill with both Republican and Democratic support, and the Republican-controlled House Agriculture Committee has come up with a similar bill. But House Republican leaders, apparently not keen to be seen as bipartisan right before the November election, decline to bring the measure to a vote on the floor.
Unless the House Republican leadership acts, at least 10 valuable programs, authorized in the 2008 farm bill, will expire on Sept. 30.
Among these are economic development programs to encourage small-scale entrepreneurship and small business growth in rural areas. Then there are the research and sales programs helping producers seize emerging market opportunities to meet rising consumer demand for organic and local foods.
Providing training and technical assistance to the next generation of farmers will also be eliminated. That’s particularly alarming when the average age of an American farm producer today is 57. Without such programs as “Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development,” that age will only increase.
Finally, in the face of the most disastrous, widespread drought in a generation, what’s the worst possible thing Congress could do? Play politics with disaster aid and cut conservation programs, the very programs that help farmers protect themselves from the worst ravages of drought.
Rappahannock’s very own congressman, Rep. Eric Cantor, as the house majority leader, can unblock the farm bill and let it come to the floor for an up-or-down vote. It is within his power to transcend the political paralysis that has overtaken Congress.
And as Rep. Cantor’s constituent, you have the power to help move him to act constructively. His Culpeper office’s telephone number is 540-825-8960. His fax is 540-825-8964.